McStay Family

Sentencing Day: Charles Merritt to Learn Fate for McStay Family Killings

Charles "Chase" Merritt was found guilty June 10, 2019, on four counts of murder in the slayings of the McStay Family

What to Know

  • The McStay family of Fallbrook was last heard from or seen on Feb. 4, 2010.
  • On Feb. 15, the family was reported missing to the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.
  • Homicide investigators search the family's home on Avocado Vista Lane and found no sign of a struggle.

The man convicted in the mysterious disappearance and killings of a Southern California family, including two children, will learn his fate Friday.

Charles Merritt will be sentenced in a San Bernardino courtroom for the slayings of his former business associate Joseph McStay, McStay's wife, Summer McStay, and the couple's 3 and 4-year-old sons.

After years of legal proceedings, he was found guilty on June 10, 2019, on four counts of murder. The bodies of the McStay family were found buried in the Mojave desert in 2013, three years after the family vanished from their home in San Diego County.

A jury recommended the death penalty for Merritt for the murders of Summer McStay and the children, and life without the possibility of parole in the killing of Joseph McStay.

Charles Merritt was found guilty of murdering a family of four, and now the jury is recommending the death penalty. NBC 7's Jackie Crea has more.

NBC 7 will be at the sentencing hearing. We'll bring you updates throughout Friday.


The McStay family disappeared from their Fallbrook home in 2010. Immediately, the mysterious case gripped the community. Where were they Why were they gone?

In the family's home, investigators found bowls of uneaten popcorn, as if the family had just been there, and planned to return. The home had no signs of forced entry. Soon, the family's car was found at a strip mall in south San Diego County near the U.S.-Mexico border.

A video captured at a nearby border crossing deepened the mystery. The clip appeared to show a family of four crossing the border into Mexico -- a family that looked like they could have been the McStays.

Ultimately, officials determined it was not the McStay family in that video.

Three years later, the remains of the family were discovered in a shallow grave in a remote desert in Southern California. When their remains were unearthed, investigators also found a rusty sledgehammer that they said was used to kill the family.

In 2014, Merritt was arrested.

Authorities said they traced his cellphone to the gravesite area. They also linked him to a call seeking to close Joseph McStay's online bookkeeping account.

Joseph McStay owned a custom fountain business and worked with Merritt. According to prosecutors, greed was the motive for the killings and Merritt killed the McStays because he was embezzling thousands of dollars from Joseph McStay's business.

Merritt's attorneys said the two men were best friends and investigators overlooked another possible suspect in the killings. Instead, they said, authorities zeroed in on an innocent man.

Family members react to the arrest: Summer McStay’s brother-in-law, Joseph Russell, speaks and then Michael McStay, brother of Joseph McStay, speaks.
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